Reddit GM Advice: No Subtlety, ADHD & Brainstorming, Strahd Menu

Reddit GM Advice: No Subtlety, ADHD & Brainstorming, Strahd Menu

Reddit Icon in front of my lovely rainbow dice from Dice Envy.

I made a list of 3 GM advice subreddits called RefAdvice.

1.Don’t be subtle. Tell the players when they are making characters what the game is going to be about. Don’t make them chase it. There will be mysteries and surprises along the way anyway.

2. I bet if you tell them and the characters’ back stories are linked to these three, the B plots will write themselves.

3. A group that takes over the Zhents might be cool.

Good luck!

Emiel Boven's Fun Skulls Subject Divider

Would a brainstorming worksheet help?

Context, Cool Shit and Consequences

Hope it is helpful. Good luck!

I’m really glad to hear that. Quite a few people I care about have been diagnosed with ADHD (and I’m looking into getting tested soon).

Could be I made this to deal with my own stuff…

Good luck! You can do this.

Emiel Boven's Fun Skulls Subject Divider

Use the book (and all of the WotC adventure hardcovers) as a menu, rather than a guide or a text that must be followed. Choose the meals that interest you and leave the rest behind. Don’t feel like you have to play it exactly as written in order to play right.

Make it your own, look at the amazing resources in the Curse of Strahd community (Dragna Carta’s re-writes are well worth looking over).

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Reddit GM Advice: World Building Depth, Eye of Vecna, No One Solution

Reddit GM Advice: World Building Depth, Eye of Vecna, No One Solution

Reddit Icon in front of my lovely rainbow dice from Dice Envy.

I made a list of 3 GM advice subreddits called RefAdvice.

Emiel Boven's Fun Skulls Subject Divider

Have unanswered questions about people and factions, things that you will discover through play. These could be something they are on the knife’s edge about and could go one way or another – or a goal they are striving for.

Daydream about them without writing plot. Have conversations with them or as them in the shower but don’t lock anything down; don’t hold it too tightly (as Avery Alder said in Monsterhearts). Just ponder and consider.

Jot down 3 words that describe them. It is best if two of the descriptors conflict with one another. People are full of contradictions.

Have goals that they are pursing. When players see them again, consider how they have changed and what they have accomplished or failed to accomplish since they last met.

Digest media from a diversity of points of view.

Good luck!

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You can really have fun with this character’s perception.

Maybe sometimes they see what Vecna has seen in the past, scenes from when Vecna was a Wizard-King with a loyal knight friend named Kaz.

Sometimes they’ll see Vecna in the future, an Archlich making secret plans to destroy worlds.

Sometimes they might just see someone’s secrets, their most hidden things.

And sometimes Vecna will see them and nod, welcoming the to the fold.

Perhaps they can feel the person with the Hand, out there, moving towards them slowly.

Have fun!

Emiel Boven's Fun Skulls Subject Divider

Or don’t come up with a solution. Let your players deal with that.

That way there’s no one right answer. Maybe there are several or some half-measures or some solutions that will degrade over time. Be open to solutions that deal with compromise and messiness.

Not having a solution leaves it in their court.

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Reddit GM Advice: Bloodied State, Villages, Simplicity & World-Building

Reddit GM Advice: Bloodied State, Villages, Simplicity & World-Building

Reddit Icon in front of my lovely rainbow dice from Dice Envy.

I made a list of 3 GM advice subreddits called RefAdvice.

Maybe when a creature is at half hit points they take on a tag called Bloodied and some monsters get stronger when they are Bloodied or even gain strength from their Bloodied allies.

Emiel Boven's Fun Skulls Subject Divider
Emiel Boven's Fun Skulls Subject Divider

Find a one page dungeon and start the game right at the dungeon’s beginning.

Find a map of a ruined castle and toss some bandits in it.

An owlbear is killing local sheep…

Just keep it simple.

Good luck!

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Sometimes it is the village the players are starting in.

Sometimes it is a phrase from an old bit of notebook scribbles: “The Tiefling Dukes, in their heyday, had 13 Witch-Towers bequeathed to them by the Devil-Tyrant.”

Sometimes I hear a friend has never fought a dragon in a game and so I make a setting with a greedy dragon family using its power to rule over a countryside so he can attempt to kick those dragons in the teeth.

Sometimes I read a book or listen to a podcast about history and that pops something off.

Start where you are passionate and have energy because when you run out of said energy, you’ll want to keep going. Don’t spend energy on anything that isn’t inspirational or useful at the table.

Good luck!

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More Reddit GM Advice

More Reddit GM Advice

Reddit Icon in front of my lovely rainbow dice from Dice Envy.

I made a list of 3 GM advice subreddits called RefAdvice.

Dagger Subject Divider

Incorporate that idea of destroying something and remaking it stronger into every aspect of the world you can.

When healers give healing, have them talk about bones re-knitting stronger.

When someone dies, instead of rest in peace, have folks say something about them returning, better made in a better world.

When blessing a new building, have the priest say something about building it better next time should it fall.

Have that theme of rebuilding first and foremost in your mind when you are making the world. When you think about the lore of a city – what was on that spot BEFORE the city – how is the city a better version of that…

Good luck!

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GM: You’ve got some time before things heat up again. What do you get done in that month?

Player: I’d like to fix the fighter’s broken magical sword with that magic orchid we got from that time in that place with the thing.

GM: Cool, sounds like you have everything you need. Whose forge do you use?

Player: My brother is a smith in the city, remember? I’ll use his forge.

GM: Right! I had forgotten. Y’know, there’s no skill for making things in 5e. But you have plenty of time and space. Let’s just say you do it, yeah?

Player: Sounds good.

GM: Let’s have some role-play with you, your brother and the fighter as you finish…

  1. Establish what they want to do.
  2. Decide how to do it – rolls necessary? Anything need to be gathered?
  3. Role-play a short scene to make it real and let the moment breathe.

Hope that helps! Good luck.

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Don’t feel like you have to write out a beginning, middle and end. You don’t have to make a publishable product (and honestly, many published products aren’t that useful at the table in play). You have to get started.

Ask the players to make characters to deal with Astral Elves coming to the Realms with an eye towards taking over. Diplomats, spies, monarch’s agents – people who will be asked to deal with this shit.

Start with a cold war, with the Astral Elves making allies and winning people over with promises that colonizers always start with. Get some ideas for a first adventure, a minor tussle or a conflict in Cormyr as the Astral Empire try to win over the Purple Dragons.

Have fun! Good luck.

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Subtlety is over-rated.

Subtlety is over-rated.
Your #DnD players are journeying to a new town and something is amiss. 👀 What are some subtle ways to hint to your players that something is wrong here?
Kids run up to the party cleric and/or paladin and all if their gods are going to destroy the devils that the mayor has summoned to consolidate their power. #subtle #DnD
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Most of the time I’d rather get my players into the mix with information at hand so they can make interesting, informed and meaningful decisions. There will still be room for surprises but in my experience, when I find myself actively hiding something from the players it is often a mistake.

Uncovering secret lore or figuring out a complicated situation can be fun. I’m just saying, keep careful track of how hard you are working to keep secrets or keep information from the players. Character decisions are far more interesting when they have more information.

Even when players don’t know things, I don’t think of it as hiding it from them or being subtle. I think of it as controlling pacing by unspooling the hidden at the pace of their discovery, especially if they are after the information and are taking smart angles to find it.
More subtlety? OK Statues of saints crying blood. The Screaming Tree is at it again, they say. Everyone who has killed can see and talk to the ghosts of those they have slain. Everyone in town is trying to get the merchant’s son out of the mirror he accidentally walked into.

These designs and more in my Threadless shop – t-shirts of all kinds, mugs, stickers and even shower curtains…

Blog of Judd Karlman from Daydreaming about Dragons

DM Advice: Give yourself structure

DM Advice: Give yourself structure

The hardest thing to do is create into a void. When you are making something, give yourself some structure, even if you throw it away later or hate it. That is fine, it gives you something to chafe against and that will help you create.

Where did this come from?

Reddit Post: I’ve just started the daunting task of creating my first world from scratch, and it started pretty simple: A town here, a city there, maybe some mountains near it. I thought I was doing a pretty bang-up job. But then I started seeing other people’s worlds and getting overwhelmed by the amount of thought they put into the logistics of their setting. I remember seeing Matthew Mercer create a believable mining town in 3 minutes, he started with a vague outline of a mining town and then added farms, and then unions, and then mining guilds, and then adventuring guilds, and so on and so forth. It was so impressive and horrifying, how does one think about these things? Does everyone think about their settings like this? Am I just stupid and unfit to be making worlds and just stick to prewritten stuff? So does anyone know a “Worldbuilding for Dummies” book?

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My response:

You are not an idiot. Folks have been doing this for a long time and have internalized structure.

When you have a new place, try this:

Think of 3 things – a place, a faction and a secret.

Eventually, you’ll want 9 but to start fast, but for fast-and-loose at the table – just jot down 3. Eventually, when you’ve had a moment to think or time to prep – you’ll have 3 of each:

3 Interest Places.

3 Factions.

3 Secrets.

9 things. More will grow out of that. If you can’t think of 3, that is fine. Just move on. Jot the things down and get going.

Failed Skill Checks, an open letter

Dear Gaming,

We need to talk about failed Skill Checks How we use them needs to change and it needs to change fast.

We misuse them and adventures grind to a halt because of a missed roll. We misuse them and cool backstory and details go missed. We misuse them and players stop looking for details because when they look in a smart way they are denied the most basic of information because of a bad die roll.

We could blame this on bad adventure design or too much backstory or players not dealing with failure well but I’d rather look more carefully at the easiest fix – the way we frame these rolls.


Thiefy McRogue, our example player character, has skulked through the shadows into the villainous Joe BBEG’s office with a combination of smart planning and a solid die roll. Guards are outside and about but none are in the office right now. He has no idea when Joe BBEG might return.

Player: I check the desk.

DM: Roll Investigation.




<< Rewind

Possibility 1

DM: What does that look like? What is Thiefy McRogue doing?

Player: Thiefy knows Joe BBEG likes to put traps into his desks. He hired those trap-makers back in Cool-ass Dragon City. I’m being careful to avoid those traps.

DM: Roll Investigation. If you succeed, I’ll tell you where the traps are and you can tell me what you do about them. If you fail, a trap is going to go off and shit is going to get real, there will be saves and we’ll see what happens from there. * rolls failure and failure again to avoid the dart and failure again to avoid the poison *

Player: Oh shit. Am I dead?

DM: Not yet. You know you have five minutes before the poison takes hold and you start to hallucinate your worst nightmares come to life. What do you do?

Player: Shit, I rampage through the desk to find those plans. Do I roll again?

DM: You rampage, you find them. The noise has alerted the guards and you can hear the alarm going up. You are starting to see things out of the corner of your vision, things your father summoned from the Far Realms when you were a child in his wizard’s tower.

Player: Shit, I’m heading out the window onto the roof (detail established earlier).

DM: You make your way to the roof and the guards are right behind you. Other things are following you and you can’t tell what is real and what is from the drug. Roll to see how fast you make your way across the slate rooves as the guards give chase.

Cool rooftop chase ensues…

Possibility 2

DM: What does that look like? What is Thiefy McRogue doing?

Player: We know Joe BBEG isn’t the type to trap his desk. I don’t care if he knows I was here. I’m quietly but studiously tearing this thing apart. I’m going to find those plans. I know they’re here.

DM: So you don’t care if he knows you were here and found the plans?

Player: I don’t have time to care.

DM: Cool, you find the plans.

Player: But I spent all these points on Investigation? Can I roll?

DM: Totally! Here’s the deal, if you succeed, you are going to find a detail that will give you an advantage die later to use on Joe BBEG. If you fail, maybe Joe will learn something about you and your methods based on how you toss the desk…

Player: Cool. * rolls success *

DM: Do you want to make up the detail that will give you an advantage in combat?

Player: That kinda fucks up my immersion.

DM: No problem, you find notes from a fencing class he’s taking. He’s studying the Devil Blade Style, learning from a Tiefling master who fought in the Devil-Dragon War back when the Tieflings made war on the Dragonborn, pawns between Tiamat warring on Asmodeus.

Player: And I’ll be able to gain an advantage die because I’ll be able to know what he’s going to do based on what I know about that fencing style.

DM: It was the same style your brother used as a Judicial Duellist in Cool-ass Dragon City.

Player: Shit, I know from previously established detail that the guards were going to change in a bit. I’ve waited too long and my safe route back is gone, yeah?

DM: Yeah, that is the cost of taking your time. How are you getting out of here?

Player: I’m going to walk out like I work here and try to bluff it.

DM: Roll.

Possibility 3

DM: What does that look like? What is Thiefy McRogue doing?

Player: I’m going to go through slowly and carefully. I don’t want Joe BBEG to know I was here. We know Joe BBEG doesn’t like traps so I’m not worried about that (detail established earlier, different than above so we can show a different example of failure).

DM: Roll Investigate.

Player: I’ve been putting all my points into that, training hard for this moment. * rolls failure * Shit, I guess I don’t find anything.

DM: You find the plans but haven’t opened the scroll yet when Joe BBEG walks through the office door. He smiles and says, “Thiefy, I thought I had lost you in Cool-ass Dragon City. I’m afraid I can’t allow you to leave with that,” and he’s clearly looking around, just a touch frantic to make sure your friends aren’t here.

Player: Oh shit, that’s right. Wizardly Mageman hit him and his crew with that Fireball in that fight on the docks. I act like Wizardly is invisible nearby, nod to him and yell, “Fireball now!” and use that to get out the window.

DM: You’ll have to jump through the window while it closed. No time…

Player: That is fine. I’ll take some damage?

DM: Yeah, a d6 or so. Roll your Perform Lies skill.

Player: * rolls a wild-ass success *

DM: Bahamut’s sack! That is a wildass success. You jump out the window and take * rolls * 4 damage as Joe BBEG dives for cover. He realizes the ruse fast, though and jumps out the window after you.

Cool rooftop chase ensues…

Get context and description of actions from the player before the dice hit the table, that way you can give consequences that make sense. What is at stake here? Is it a time crunch, getting this done before Joe BBEG comes back? Is it avoiding clever traps? Is it making it look like you were never here? That all depends on the previously established details giving this all context.

As the DM, I’m not looking for the rooftop chase or where this all is going. I don’t need to know the next steps. I don’t need rooftop chase to happen. I think it is cool but I’m not pushing for it.

I’m pushing for sharing details that give the NPC context and personality, give the players the information they need to move forward and offering consequences for the players’ choices. I’m not offering less details and cool shit because of failed rolls. I want to share cool shit. I’m offering consequences and danger.

In Possibility 1, Thiefy might get captured. That is cool. Saving a captured player character is a fun-ass adventure. Joe BBEG might not know how much they know and might have to change his plans at that point. We’ll see. If captured, Thiefy’s player can sit a game out (eh, not my fav) or play a helpful hireling or NPC.

Context, Cool Shit and Consequences at all times.

If the failure results of a roll are boring or not meaningful or stop you from making up cool shit or sharing cool shit, either technique is not being used correctly at the table or the game mechanics aren’t helping you, possibly a combination of both.

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